- Since partially hydrogenated oils (PHO) have been found to increase the risk of heart disease, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has stripped them of the "generally recognized as safe" designation, and bakers are working to find more healthy replacements.
- Trans fats had once been used in almost all crackers, about 95% of prepared cookies and 80% of frozen breakfast items, according to FDA statistics.
- PHOs are used in shortenings, and reformulating baked goods without them is a challenge because fats perform structuring, flavoring and texturizing roles.
The FDA's decision on the common additive, requiring all manufacturers to have phased it out or submit a petition about why it's safe by June 18, 2018, sent many companies scrambling. The Grocery Manufacturers Association submitted a petition to FDA last year, hoping to show that low levels of trans fats in processed foods are as safe as naturally occurring trans fats in a normal diet. The petition was formally filed by FDA in October.
But even if the FDA approves the position, there is much reformulation to be done. Companies are exploring many options, including making new products from PHOs, which is allowed under the FDA's designation, to be new emulsifiers. Oils are also coming center stage, being able to sometimes add the moisture and flavor needed. Ingredients company Corbion announced earlier this year that it had solved this problem with its proprietary oil blend and a small amount of PHO. And many are saying palm or coconut oils will also help solve the problem.
However, reformulating products comes at a cost. These new formulations use research and development dollars and are intended to comply with the FDA, but won't necessarily enhance flavor or appearance, or meet a specific dietary trend.
There's also the potential environmental cost. Demand for palm oil, which has been popular in Europe, has increased. However, plantations where the trees are grown are not always developed in a sustainable way. In April, Malaysian-based IOI Group, one of the world's largest suppliers of palm oil, was suspended from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. Many U.S. companies — including Post Holdings, ADM and Cargill, Wilmar and Golden Agri-Resource — are working to use only sustainable palm oil in their products.